For Luther, like all reformers in all Cultures, was not the first, but the last of a grand succession which led from the great ascetics of the open country to the city-priest. Reformation is Gothic, the accomplishment and the testament thereof. Luther's chorale "Ein' feste Burg" does not belong to the spiritual lyrism of the Baroque. There rumbles in it still the splendid Latin of the Dies Irae. It is the Church Militant's last mighty Satan-song. Luther, like every reformer that had arisen since the year 1000, fought the Church not because it demanded too much, but because it demanded too little ...
The last reformers, the Luthers and Savonarolas, were urban monks, and this differentiates them profoundly from the Joachims and the Bernards. Their intellectual and urban askesis is the stepping-stone from the hermitages of quiet valleys to the scholar's study of the Baroque. The mystic experience of Luther which gave birth to his doctrine of justification is the experience, not of a St. Bernard in the presence of woods and hills and clouds and stars, but of a man who looks through narrow windows on the streets and house walls and gables.
The mighty act of Luther was a purely intellectual decision. Not for nothing has he been regarded as the last great Schoolman of the line of Occam. He completely liberated the Faustian personality--the intermediate person of the priest, which ha formerly stood between it and the Infinite, was removed. And not it was wholly along, self-oriented, its own priest and its own judge. But the common people could only feel, not understand, the element of liberation in it all. They welcomed, enthusiastically, indeed, the tearing up of visible duties, but they did not come to realize that these had been replaced by intellectual duties that were still stricter. Francis of Assisi had given much and taken little, but the urban Reformation took much and, as far as the majority of people were concerned, gave little.
The holy Causality of the Contrition-sacrament Luther replaced by the mystic experience of inward absolution "by faith alone." He came very near to Bernard of Clairvaux. Both of them understood absolution as a divine miracle: insofar as the man changes himself, it is God changing him. The one and the other preached: "Thou must believe that God has forgiven thee," but for Bernard belief was through the powers of the priest elevated to knowledge, whereas for Luther it sank to doubt and separate insistence. Herein lies the ultimate meaning of the Western priest, who from 1215 was elevated above the rest of mankind by the sacrament of ordination and its character indelebilis: he was a hadn with which even the poorest wretch could grasp God. This visible link with the infinite, Protestantism destroyed. Strong souls could and did win it back for themselves, but for the weaker it was gradually lost. Bernard, although for him the inward miracle was successful of itself, would not deprive others of the gentler way, for the very illumination of his soul showed him the Mary- world of living nature, all-pervading, ever near and ever helpful. Luther, who knew himself only and not men, set postulated heroism in place of actual weakness. For him life was desperate battle against the Devil, and that battle he called upon everyone to fight. And everyone who fought it fought it alone.